I am very excited for this new episode in our national drama, in which the world’s richest man publicly accuses allies of the president of extorting him with private photos of his genitalia if he doesn’t stop accusing them of politically driven hatchet jobs.
For dramatic purposes, it can’t end any other way except with Bezos producing evidence that Trump himself put the Enquirer up to digging up dirt on him, as revenge for the Washington Post’s negative coverage of POTUS. And then we’ll have a fun national debate over whether it’s wrong for the president to use scandal sheets to try to destroy his political enemies.
I wonder where Ted Cruz would come down on that one.
You should read all of this, as it is something else:
In the AMI letters I’m making public, you will see the precise details of their extortionate proposal: They will publish the personal photos unless Gavin de Becker and I make the specific false public statement to the press that we “have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AMI’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces.”
If we do not agree to affirmatively publicize that specific lie, they say they’ll publish the photos, and quickly. And there’s an associated threat: They’ll keep the photos on hand and publish them in the future if we ever deviate from that lie…
These communications cement AMI’s long-earned reputation for weaponizing journalistic privileges, hiding behind important protections, and ignoring the tenets and purpose of true journalism. Of course I don’t want personal photos published, but I also won’t participate in their well-known practice of blackmail, political favors, political attacks, and corruption. I prefer to stand up, roll this log over, and see what crawls out.
He reprints no fewer than three emails that AMI’s legal team sent him, one of which describes in detail the personal photos of Bezos they claim they’ve obtained. (“A shirtless Mr. Bezos holding his phone in his left hand — while wearing his wedding ring. He’s wearing either tight black cargo pants or shorts — and his semi-erect manhood is penetrating the zipper of said garment.”) At first blush that seems strange; why would Bezos gratuitously embarrass himself by repeating the details of the photos, which he doesn’t deny are real?
But it’s actually sort of brilliant. Now that the world knows what the photos show and how they were brought to Bezos’s attention, the Enquirer’s decision to publish them would look that much sleazier. They’d no longer be exclusively an embarrassment to Bezos, they’d be smoking-gun proof of the Enquirer’s allegedly extortionate business practices. How can the paper run them now, under those circumstances?
And if it did, are they guilty of a crime? 18 U.S. Code § 875:
(d) Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.
The paper could presumably publish the pics on fair-use grounds notwithstanding Bezos’s copyright claim to them, citing the public interest in his judgment as head of Amazon or whatever. (That’s the fig-leaf justification given by the Enquirer’s lawyer.) But because the Enquirer’s lawyer offered not to publish the photos in exchange for Bezos doing something valuable for them — namely, a statement from Bezos and his companies “that they have no knowledge or basis for suggesting that AM’s coverage was politically motivated or influenced by political forces” — we may have something actionable here. All it would take is for, er, Donald Trump’s DOJ to ride to Jeff Bezos’s rescue. Against his buddy David Pecker and AMI, the Enquirer’s parent company.
Bezos mentions Trump in his post, by the way. No specific allegation is made, just a reminder that the Enquirer played a role in the Stormy Daniels saga and that POTUS considers Bezos a political enemy by dint of his ownership of the Post. I can’t tell if Bezos means to insinuate that he might be involved in this matter or not, as he points away from Trump in one spot by claiming that Pecker is reportedly most angry at the interest Bezos’s investigators have taken in AMI’s relationship with Saudi Arabia. And of course it’s possible that the Enquirer might have sought to destroy Bezos believing that it’d please Trump but without ever being asked to do anything by the president. It is … curious, though, that he’d reference Trump when Trump has no direct connection to this dispute.
Maybe he’s mentioning him because it’s all too easy to imagine that this is how the Trump/Enquirer relationship began and/or progressed over the years. Maybe it started with blackmail involving Trump’s exploits and Trump paid the danegeld by cooperating afterward with the Enquirer on exclusives, tipping them off to other celebrity scandals that he heard about, and so forth. Remember that “safe” that AMI allegedly has, or had, of Trump material?
One more thing related to the federal extortion statute I quoted above. Don’t forget that AMI reached a deal with the Manhattan U.S. Attorney in Michael Cohen’s case, agreeing to cooperate in exchange for not being prosecuted for a campaign finance violation. That deal included certain promises:
— southpaw (@nycsouthpaw) February 7, 2019
The non-prosecution agreement is void if AMI commits against crimes. What happens to AMI now on the campaign finance charge, with Bezos having thrust this before the DOJ (and the world) by publishing AMI’s threats to him? Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti claims that AMI probably won’t be prosecuted, as there’s no direct demand for money here and the First Amendment will provide them some cover in court. But there are all sorts of things the world’s richest man could do to make life hard for the company. He can hire more investigators than they can. I hope David Pecker doesn’t have any embarrassing photos out there floating around.